Beginnings: Plotting the Course …

“How do you know when you’ve arrived, if you don’t know where you’re going?”

A good question, particularly for the one in charge – the manager, the leader of the organization. But, unfortunately, a question not often asked. Sadly, many of us squander our precious time, energy, and resources spinning our wheels – just going through the motions of dealing with those things that demand our immediate attention. This will get us through the moment, and perhaps the day, but there is no real feeling of satisfaction or accomplishment. We feel pushed and pulled in many directions, and no longer in control. Reactive! Playing defense!

There is another way.

Most leaders of successful organizations live six-to-twelve months down the road (at least in their planning heads). And have a vision of where they want to take their organizations. This destination is easily presented to everyone in the organization. But, the “how” will inevitably come up in the first conversation.

A roadmap is needed – one that sets goals and checkpoints along the way. In order to reach our destination, what do we need to know more about? Where do we want to go with this information, and why? And, how do we begin?

We begin with a vision of the end result. Then work backward, and then forward. (This approach may result from my left-handedness, but it has certainly worked for me over and over again!)

Let me explain. Visualize where you want to be – in a lot of detail. Really see the end result.  What will you need to get you there in the way of materials, time, and resources (people and money)? What information and/or training needs to be provided? What logistics might be involved? Can the project be accomplished in phases? Can you realistically reach this destination in a year? Every question you can ask (and are able to answer) will better prepare you for the presentation with your staff. You will feel confident and so will they. The leader will be leading!

Once you have your end result, you can begin to work backward to come up with a timeline, tasks, and a logical order for both (that is, this must be done before that can happen).

Now, walk it through from start to finish and see if it makes sense. Tweak where necessary. And remember, this is a roadmap. Detours can occur or you might want to spend more time on the unexpected dirt road you bump into along the way. It’s your vision. It’s your course. Just, keep your eye on the destination, always moving toward it.

And, when you arrive, as a team – celebrate the accomplishment! It’s a sweet moment for everyone involved.

Your roadmap, as the visionary, will be involved, complex, and multi-faceted – probably a monstrous flow-chart of tasks, assignments, and delegation. In other words, numerous goals.

As you move down in your organization, the goals will be fewer, simpler, and more straightforward. But, incredibly important in moving your vision forward.

A few words about creating and writing the goals – they should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timed. They should also be significant – important enough to make a difference. They should be connected to the larger goals of the organization, and easily recognized as such. They should be clearly worded, and they should be limited to only a few.

An example: From the overarching vision for our early childhood program, came this question “How to Make Learning Visible?” In response, one of the teacher’s goals, “To document three classroom activities by the end of the school year, using photos showing work in progress, transcriptions of children’s comments, and an explanation of the intent about the activity,” clearly set the expectation to accomplish.

A meeting with each team member to launch individual goals sets the appropriate expectation, and communicates the importance of accomplishing what has been written and agreed upon. These are goals within larger goals for the entire operation – and one’s completion hinges upon the others.

Once written down, these goals become part of the employee development plan – the basis for the performance management plan as well.

Periodic checkpoints are also in order – brief meetings to gauge progress, motivate when needed, or rethink the original plan in light of new information.

At the beginning of each year, I share the following: The Importance of Professionalism, A Shared Vision, and Our Goals. Setting annual goals that build upon what we have already accomplished moves us ever closer to our shared vision, and brings a continuity to our work and to our work environment. We’ve all been involved on some level – we’re all contributors, and, at the end, when we’ve accomplished what we set out to do, we all share in the successes. Job well done!

If you haven’t yet begun this practice of setting goals (both professionally and personally), I invite you to consider the possibilities. Then, let me know how it goes.

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6 Responses to Beginnings: Plotting the Course …

  1. Tamar M. Furcht says:

    As I read this it translates itself into what it means to manage a classroom. It feels like all of your points transfer. The piece about “smart” changed especially resonated. All too often I at least have gotten lost in the ether of Big Ideas, only to be frustrated by the lack of practical application. Measurability is comforting. From documenting work with photos and text to learning to flip on a jacket, the “Look! I did it”s tend to build on one another.

    As always, thank you the inspiration, Marcia

  2. Linda Clark says:

    As always your timing is impeccable….coincidental…I was working with a young teacher today, helping her to envision what a toddler classroom should look like. She came out with a few ideas (specific ones- parent board/schedule- Measure- how parents like it
    Actionable – her way of doing it- Realistic – Appropriate goals and Time-which is my personally favorite . Because I always want things done yesterday- LOL Very nice entry you should consider sending these essays off to magazines.!!!

    • Marcia Hebert says:

      Isn’t it amazing – they say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I love the way the universe works:)

      Thank you for sharing – your experience will, undoubtedly, help another, and another, and another.

  3. Traci Lipson says:

    Marcia, as I read your blog, it as if Im sitting with my group of colleagues, but more importantly friends, getting ready for another year to begin. It inspires me to share your vision and use it everyday in this new chapter of my life.

    • Marcia Hebert says:

      Tracey – Thank you for that. You are one of my ‘baby ducklings’ all grown up – and, making positive ripples in your work world. Keep going, my friend. And, reach for the stars:)

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